Movie Diary 2/25/2019

lailaLaila (George Schnéevoigt, 1929). Astonishing silent epic, a rich melodrama about a young Norwegian girl taken in by the indigenous Lapp (or Sámi) people. It has more twists than a Dickens story, and its source novel is apparently something like a Norwegian national saga (or was, for many decades). The physical production is huge, with lots of shots in snowy landscapes and deep fjords, including a series of how-did-they-do-that sequences: reindeer races, kayaking down rapids – the actors appear to be in serious danger at various points. The storyline is almost like an inversion of The Searchers or other abduction scenarios: Here, the lost girl is rescued by a mostly kindly but possessive Native “uncle,” then raised in the indigenous society; he must then let her go when white society (in the form of her family) re-appears. I guess the Jeffery Hunter character is the girl’s foster Sámi brother, an insipid type who isn’t much competition for the eventual white suitor. Racial politics aside, it’s easy to see why generations of girls would’ve been inspired by the plucky, resourceful heroine, who beats the men in reindeer-racing and sweeps her hand across the endless horizon while saying, “This is my home.” Screened at the Paramount, with a bravura performance by Tedde Gibson on the vintage Wurlitzer organ, bobbing and weaving through all 165 of the film’s minutes.

Nazarin (Luis Buñuel, 1959). One of Buñuel’s best Mexican films, a tale of a Christlike priest (Francisco Rabal) whose actions frequently cause problems. Sparely told, yet with little jabs of strangeness – no one has quite captured the collision of the sacramental with the disgusting as Buñuel does in the moment a thirsty woman drinks bloody water. (Part of Scarecrow Academy’s series devoted to the films of 1959).

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